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Wine to 5: Kevin Shaw, design agency director

Inside a professional's everyday life, Decanter speaks to Kevin Shaw, award-winning label, packaging and brand designer.

Kevin Shaw is the founder and creative director of Stranger & Stranger, an award-winning alcoholic beverage brand and packaging design agency with studios in London, New York and San Francisco. The company advises businesses and start-ups of all sizes, and is behind some of the most prominent labels launched in the past 20 years, including Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes and Kraken rum.

How did you get here?

I started the company and had an early win with Dell computers. It was great but incredibly boring. One day I was sitting at a wine auction with a friend and he said, ‘well those labels don’t look great, do they’. I felt I could certainly do something about it. So I went away and did a lot of research into consumer behaviour and the psychology behind labels. I found the closest big distributor, Bibendum, knocked on the door and did a few labels for them. There was no budget for it so they paid me in wine – a full truck arrived and unloaded on my doorstep! But most importantly, the labels did really well.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Doing the best possible job for each of the amazing projects we are involved in. And seeing the passion and incredible creative drive of our designers. This is what gets me up every day.

And the worst?

Some celebrity clients. We do have one right now who is incredible: she has class and lets us do our job. But then there’s the other side of it… Some of them just come in and think that because they sing and have a fashion brand they can design a label and bottle. It really doesn’t work like that. You never know, until you’ve accepted and started the work, which kind of celebrity they are going to be.

Is that an issue? If some clients undermine the complexity of what you do?

Not at all. There was a time when people thought packaging didn’t matter. But now everyone knows packaging matters and experts need to be brought in to sort it out. People are very respectful. We’ve been doing this for so long and have so much expertise and intel. People truly acknowledge that and we’re left to do what we do really well.

Is there a sector that’s more challenging than others?

The wine industry is particularly hard, I have to say. The rate of innovation is glacial. We work with spirits, perfumes, cannabis and there’s so much going on. But we’re still using the same wine bottles as 300 years ago. It’s hard to push for changes in the wine business.

Do you have a favourite past project?

There have been quite a few incredible projects along the way. Definitely one I did for [Bodegas] Norton early on in Argentina. Norton’s owner hired the whole village to apply the labels to the bottles. Also Kraken rum. It was an overnight success and changed people’s view of what you can do with a challenger brand, particularly when the market is completely controlled by one major player.

What do you drink at home?

We get about 100 samples every day, so lots of different stuff. I used to be a Burgundy guy, but I’ve really gotten into Californian Pinot Noir. My other thing is whiskies.

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